3/13/20 | Impact of COVID-19 on the research community 

Research Community,

Changes to ongoing biomedical research may be expected in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Below is important information about our research operations to minimize possible disruption. The research community should maintain awareness of the dynamic nature of events provided by official communications from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the UT Health San Antonio website for Coronavirus Updates.

Although we might experience a temporary reduction of our onsite workforce due to illness or remote work options, the Office of the Vice President for Research and all essential services provided by the Department of Laboratory Animal Resources (DLAR), Research Protection Programs (IRB, IACUC, OCR), and the Clinical Trials Office (CTO) will continue to operate and maintain compliance with federal and state regulations. We do not anticipate disruption of the services offered by the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), Research IT, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Research Partnerships, Conflict of Interest and Research Integrity, as these operations can continue remotely.

Essential Services 

Department of Laboratory Animal Resources (DLAR) 
DLAR has the flexibility to adjust to possible increases in employee absenteeism to ensure continued support of research animal health and husbandry.

  • Current services will continue
  • Vivarium access will be dependent on the same conditions governing campus access. There are no plans to specifically limit access to research animals
  • Should there be a decrease in DLAR personnel, animal care practices will be adjusted such that animal health remains the priority
  • Current investigator or protocol-specific services (e.g. training, protocol support, surgical support) may be curtailed or discontinued depending on DLAR personnel availability
  • Investigators and their staff conducting animal research are reminded to contact the DLAR administration (Dr. Sandy Hacker, Director and Dr. James Elliott Associate Director) for questions or concerns related to the availability of DLAR services as the need arises.

Human and Animal Research Administration 
All business operations of the Research Administration offices (IRB, IACUC, OCR & CTO), including submission, review and approval, can be performed remotely.

  • Staffing across all offices can be adjusted as the staff is cross-trained, and our business processes are standardized
  • If necessary, IRB & IACUC meetings can be conducted using web-based approaches or conference calls
  • Unscheduled meetings can be convened if the need arises.

Investigators should keep in mind that multicenter clinical research may be affected by the conditions at the individual performance sites.  Please stay in touch with the sites and their institutional offices.  In addition, site investigators should check with the lead investigator or regulatory sponsor for any changes in the study.

Planning Information for Research Laboratories  
While UTHSA has robust emergency response plans in place to maintain general activities, all research labs are encouraged to prepare their own emergency plans to detail how they intend to continue their research activities should there be a workforce reduction due to illness or inability to come to work. PIs are the persons best positioned to develop a continuity plan for their labs.
Practical actions to consider include:

  • Identify all critical research activities that require regular personnel attention and share your work plan with colleagues who might help you (e.g. maintenance of cell cultures)
  • Cross-train lab members to perform critical functions. If possible, reduce or delay large scale experiments
  • Consider to pre-order critical supplies as they may be out of stock or affected by shipping delays
  • Use PPE only when required; where feasible, plan for one individual to carry on activities generally conducted by multiple lab staff to minimize the number of entry and exits and changes of PPE
  • Secure all high-risk materials (chemicals, biohazard and radioactive)
  • Contact DLAR personnel for specific requests
  • Update the emergency contact list, identify the lab point of contact and share his/her email and phone number with your lab personnel
  • Add on-line meeting options to all scheduled meetings
  • Check IT equipment for working from home and remote conferencing
  • Please start planning now and reach out to the VPR office (VPR@uthscsa.edu) for any questions.
  • Institutional Core Labs: In case of reduced workforce, you may experience delays in the analysis/processing of your samples. Please contact Dr. Ramiro Ramirez-Solis (RamirezSolis@uthscsa.edu) for any questions.
  • Research Trainees: All institutional offices will continue to monitor developments and provide information to ensure the safety and security of the entire UTHSA community including trainees involved in research. Information will be distributed through normal communication channels; offices, schools, and programs will be available to answer questions.

For any concerns, please contact the VPR office at VPR@uthscsa.edu.

Article Categories: Research, Timely Updates